Women in Recent Revolutionary Iconography

JVF Conference Papers

The uprisings and protest movements of 2011 (the so-called Arab Spring, indignados, Occupy Wall Street, etc.) have been widely considered groundbreaking because of their leaderless structures.

Owing to the absence of unequivocally leading figures, the symbolic and practical role of urban space has been emphasized in popular media and scholarship alike. Next to the widely circulated and discussed images of Tahrir Square, Puerta del Sol, and Zucotti Park, however, another type of image has been prevalent, that of a revolutionary woman. In response to W.J.T. Mitchell's article "Image, Space, Revolution: The Arts of Occupation" (2012), I argue that the reasons for the focus of recent revolutionary imagery on women cannot be reduced to the allegedly feminine character of nonviolence, but are much more complex and entail far-reaching consequences. I engage with two images Mitchell quotes as iconic of the 2011 revolutions – the ballerina from the Occupy Wall Street poster and the "blue bra girl" beaten and disrobed by the military police in Tahrir Square – and discuss their cultural and historical significance. These two images, I argue, represent two major tropes prevalent in revolutionary iconography: woman as a symbol of revolutionary ideals and woman as a symbol of the failure of revolution.

Further, I propose that revolutionary images centered on women, both real-life and fictional, belong to what Ariella Azoulay calls the "language of revolution".

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